Thursday, June 2, 2016

Supreme Court rules for plaintiff in constructive discharge case

The Supreme Court finds by a huge margin that the statute of limitations for constructive discharge claims under Title VII starts to run when the plaintiff leaves the workplace and not when the act that triggers the constructive discharge takes place.

The case is Green v. Brennan, decided on May 23. Here are the facts: Green worked for the Post Office in Englewood, Colorado. He claimed he was denied a promotion because of his race. Two of his supervisors then accused Green of intentionally delaying the mail, a federal offense. The Inspector General's office investigated the allegation. Green and the Post Office signed an agreement on December 16, 2009 that said the PO would not pursue criminal charges against Green if he left his post in Englewood. The agreement also gave Green a choice: retire or report to duty to some backwoods region with a population of 451 in Wyoming, at a much lower salary. Green submitted his resignation on February 9, 2010, effective on March 31, 2010. He brought the EEO complaint 41 days after submitting his resignation on February 9, which was 96 days after signing the December 16 agreement.

If the date Green signed the agreement is the operative date for filing the charge, then the charge is time-barred. If the clock starts running on the date he submitted his resignation,then he has a case. The Court says he has a case. The statute of limitations in constructive discharge cases starts to run when the plaintiff resigns. Here's the reasoning:

Under the standard rule for limitations periods, the limitations period should begin to run for a constructive-discharge claim only after a plaintiff resigns. At that point—and not before—he can file a suit for constructive discharge. So only at that point—and not before—does he have a “complete and present” cause of action. And only after he has a complete and present cause of action does a limitations period ordinarily begin to run.

In this respect, a claim that an employer constructively discharged an employee is no different from a claim thatan employer actually discharged an employee. An ordinary wrongful discharge claim also has two basic elements: discrimination and discharge. The claim accrues when the employee is fired. At that point—and not before—he has a “complete and present cause of action.” So at that point—and not before—the limitations period begins to run.

With claims of either constructive discharge or actualdischarge, the standard rule thus yields the same result: a limitations period should not begin to run until after the discharge itself. In light of this rule, we interpret the term“matter alleged to be discriminatory” ...  to refer to all of the elements that make up a constructive-discharge claim—including an employee’s resignation.

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